Throughout our stay here, we’ve documented many wonderful, amazing things and we’ve also discussed missing family and friends. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of experiencing our two worlds collide in a remarkable and moving way. Yedidya, the shul that we now belong to here in Israel, hosted a very special program about a new book just published about women reciting the mourner’s kaddish. I’ll give you a brief overview of this prayer and then I’ll tell you about the program at Yedidya and about how Jerusalem and West Hartford came together.
The mourner’s kaddish is a prayer (composed in Aramaic, not Hebrew) that is traditionally recited at several points during a typical service by mourners. This may surprise people, but, as you can see from the actual text (below), the prayer itself has nothing directly to do with mourning. It’s all about praising God now and forever, with a sentence or two at the end about God granting peace. I should, moreover, point out that this kaddish is essentially the same kaddish that is recited at different points in the service by the leader, it just omits one sentence from what’s known as the full kaddish. So the practice is that if someone loses a parent, a sibling or a child, they recite/lead this responsive prayer for either 30 days if they lost a child or a sibling or for 11 months if it’s for a parent. (The discrepancy between the length of time the prayer is recited for a parent versus for a child or for a sibling comes from the biblical command to honor your father and mother.) Saying kaddish for a loved one can be hard and is often emotional, but I’ve found it to ultimately be therapeutic as it gave me a concrete outlet for my emotions.
The book about women reciting the mourner’s kaddish is called “Kaddish: Women’s Voices.” It is a compilation of essays written by women from several different countries about their experiences with reciting this prayer. You might ask, why specifically women’s voices? Well, even though there are precedents of women reciting kaddish centuries ago, for various reasons women (in general) stopped doing so until relatively recently. (The final chapter of the book gives a history of women reciting kaddish and the various Jewish laws relating to it. I’ll let those interested read the book themselves.) Therefore, in addition to the usual emotions that a person goes through during this period, these women often described feelings of anxiety, frustration and anger as not only dealt with their own mourning but expanded the bounds of what had become traditionally accepted.
The program at Yedidya consisted of some remarks by one of the editors Barbara Ashkenas (another CT connection), followed by a reading of some excerpts from the book and finally a panel discussion led by several contributors. All of the contributors that were on the panel live in the Jerusalem area. The most common sentiment that these women expressed was a feeling of camaraderie with the other people (men and women) who happened to also be reciting kaddish for a loved one at the same time. Furthermore, those women that happened to go to services where they were the only ones saying the prayer said that they wished that they had someone else there reciting it with them. Throughout the night, I could not help but think about my own experience of saying kaddish for my mother and how, unfortunately, a good friend of ours lost her father a month or so later. Thus she and I went through almost a whole year of saying kaddish together at the daily services at Beth David (the synagogue we belonged to in the states). I never talked with her about it, but I hope that going through the process together made it at least a little bit easier; I know it helped me.
So how did Jerusalem and West Hartford come together? Besides my being at the panel discussion, looking at the table of contents and scanning down the authors’ names, I quickly picked out at least four contributors from West Hartford. I was so proud of our little community that I decided to buy a copy of the book (and collect some signatures). So I now have a couple signatures from contributors in the Jerusalem area and when we soon visit the US, I plan on getting a few of those West Hartford women to sign too.
The mourner’s kaddish (translated obviously):
May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified (Amen.)
in the world that He created as He willed.
May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days,
and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel,
swiftly and soon. Now respond: Amen.
(Cong Amen. May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.)
May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled,
mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, Blessed is He
(Cong. Blessed is He) beyond any blessing and song,
praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Now respond: Amen.
May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life
upon us and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen.
He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,
upon us and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen.